Just in case you are wondering, this isn’t a blog about our current economic climate.  It’s actually about our local farmers and the change of generations.

One thing that has been of particular pleasure to me in my neck of the woods is the willingness of local farmers to live co-operatively with dog-walkers.  The right to roam really hasn’t needed to be invoked because the farmers appreciated the collaboration between responsible dog-walkers and them.  People exersising their animals in the mornings were the ideal people to spot any problems in lamb flocks or cattle that weren’t being their usual cattle-like selves, and they would go to the farmer’s house and let him know that things weren’t quite right.  That meant the farmer had many people looking out for his animals, and he would know very quickly if something was wrong. 

As that generation of farmers are retiring and passing on, or selling, their farms to younger farmers, us dog-walkers round here have noticed a big change in the way the land is managed.  Firstly, there are fences going up everywhere!  Now we are seeing notices everywhere, nailed to trees, to fence posts, to stiles, forbidding entry to fields, trying to keep dog-walkers exactly to proscribed paths. 

Whilst I can appreciate that not every farmer wants people walking their animals round his fields, especially when livestock is in, and that a tiny minority of walkers can’t control their dogs and they can be a nuisance to farm animals, the vast majority of dog-walkers pick up after their animals, ensure they are under control or on a lead near livestock, and generally behave in a decent, respectful way. 

I think it is very sad that this protectionism that we are seeing in the younger farming generation is leading to a breakdown of trust and general goodwill between walkers and farmers. 

Obviously, I have a vested interest – I am a dog-walker who loves the countryside in which I live and walk, and who also respects ownership rights, whilst I also deplore the lack of trust that is now rising up.  When approached by one furious land-owner who had recently taken ownership of a field near us, I stood rooted to the spot as he vented just inches from my face about people taking liberties with his land.  I confess to being totally shocked and not thinking that quickly, but I did say that I’m not a murderer, a thief or a vandal, that I clean up after my dog, and ensure that I don’t leave evidence of myself behind (ie no litter), and that I had been walking the field in question for over 16 years with no problems with the farmer before, so what was the problem?  That just got me another face of vitriol, so what can you do but shrug and walk away?

I feel it’s such a shame that we are losing ground in mutual co-operation between people just when we need to be strengthening such bonds.   Is this something that we have bred throughout the younger generations?  Is it a general malaise, or is it restricted only to land or property?  Is this a ‘selfish’ approach or a rational one?  What do you think?  And is this something happening where you live?